Friday, November 16, 2007

Making a Difference--Part I

Two weeks ago, at my uncle's memorial service, I got up to speak towards the end of the evening--to be one of the "family voices" to commemorate his life. I had actually been asked, by my eldest uncle, to represent the family, and even before he asked me to do this, I had been thinking about what I wanted to share about my uncle--things along the lines of what I wrote a few blog entries back when I first learned that he had died (my own on-line tribute to his life). I ended up being an incoherent mess, which is disappointing both because I tend to be fairly articulate (I do teach for a living) and don't have a problem speaking to large crowds, yet for some reason, this was entirely different--probably the emotional aspect. I also relied on reading the last 2 pages of a freshman composition essay I wrote about an Annie Dillard essay, "The Deer at Providencia" because my uncle features prominently in my essay, and I thought that given the message of Dillard's essay--to understand that there is suffering and pain in the world--to understand that life isn't fair but not to be blind to that unfairness--well, I believed it spoke to the end of my uncle's battle with cancer as well as his own attitude in life. Because in the freshmen composition essay I wrote about how he interrogated me about race at UC Santa Barbara (late 80s) and when I said I didn't think race was a problem (HA! How naiive my younger self was!) he told me that I was choosing not to see that racism existed and that things are far more complicated than their surfaces suggested.

I'm not sure that my remembrances and commemoration of my uncle were well received; in fact, one aunt actually asked me why I chose to talk about racism at the memorial--subtly suggesting (or am I being oversensitive...) that it was an inappropriate topic. But even if she hadn't said this, I could tell.

But here's the thing. Maybe this is not how people wanted to think about my uncle, but for me, he was someone who helped me to understand race and racism in the U.S. and, more importantly, he was someone who wanted to make a difference in the world. He was constantly seeing inequities and injustice and commenting on these issues. And in his own way, I think he also tried to act -- I certainly think he donated to causes and supported people he believed were working to make a difference.

And so, in that spirit, I wanted to invite everyone to think about how they can make a difference in the world. Although this blog is focused on issues of race, and more specifically "mixed race" (although I know I haven't written specifically about mixed race issues in a while, but don't worry--I'll return to this soon!) I also think this blog is about trying to make a difference. It sounds cliche and grandiose to say that I want to make the world a better place. But I think that's the reason my interests led me here. Although big gestures are important for big problems (and we have A TON of those), doing something as small as writing an email message to someone out of the blue to tell them that they are in your thoughts is also about making a difference. We hear so much bad news and feel so powerless to stop the evil of the world. But I think that when we can act, we should--even if it's just to send an email.

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